The Importance of Civil Society

Civil society is important in every country because it is what truly gives the citizens a voice and also open up discussions for problems and positive changes that can be enacted. We found it hard to define as a class because the definition truly depends on the country and that country’s main issues, needs, and what will be the best for everyone affected. There seems to be one identical component to each existing civil society; the civil society is separated from the government. Some examples include non-governmental organizations focused on education, healthcare, or general welfare and international organizations such as the Red Cross.

The promotion of protecting the welfare of others is especially important in areas where there is a great deal of economic and political stability. Without the ability to voice concerns and address questionable policies put into place by state and government officials. Even in areas deemed to be highly democratic, there is the question of the existence of a true legitimate democracy. In the article Civil Society’s Claims to Political Representation in Brazil by Peter P. Houtzager and Adrian Gurza Lavalle questions how we view democracy and this inherent legitimacy. “We the people” becomes a controversial topic for places that claim to be democratic as they detail the prominence of civil society and efforts to improve representation. They discuss six distinct “competing notions of representation: electoral, membership, identity, proximity, meditation, and service. The term “notions” stuck out as being a question of how strong is the belief of citizens that they are being heard in society and how misconstrued in the belief that through representatives are people automatically heard.

Of those notions, I found membership, identity, and proximity to be major areas of concern for places wrought with instability. Membership is defined by how in sync the interests of the people involved with an organization and the representatives are. If the representatives are not aware or fully informed of what the people want, it is very easy to produce results that are actually successful. For instance, if a non-governmental organization is focused on improving teacher quality in school zones that are low-income based- money should be placed into improving hiring practices instead of buying the latest software equipment for the computer lab. Membership offers a great deal of accountability because the representative is supposed to be directly linked to the issues at hand.

Proximity is related to the physical closeness of the representative and represented. Proximity usually means that the representative has had experience firsthand and completely understands the issues that are taxing a community. It is suggested that having a similar perspective will increase the representatives interests and compassion surrounding the issue leading to a more successful outcome of having the issue heard and respected. Alluding to the previous example, if the representative lived in one of the low- income areas and attended the schools that need to place more focus on how they select and train teachers, that personal experience would indeed improve their understanding and connection with that issue.

Lastly, identity is a greater extension of proximity. Identity is defined as the representatives being directly related to the represented through the expression of self. Identity has many components including how someone views themselves, how they are viewed in their community, and how they are viewed in society. Having a representative who identifies in the same ways as the people being represented can lead to issues being given more weight. For example, a woman would be more able to identify with other women when it comes to talking about gender discrimination and enacting policies that would help to prevent it.

In a civil society, the representation is not done through elected officials but instead voluntary members who have the liberty to leave if they choose to. Brazil has been challenging the notions of representation and has become a model of what it means to create and regulate a civil society without governmental intervention in various ways including restructuring how they view representation and making a distinction between participation and representation. Civil society also gives people greater accessibility and has the ability to educate people in efficient ways on issues that may not directly affect them but the world they live in. In order for a global civil society to be created, I think it would take a lot of education for everyone involved. Similar to a global sense of feminism that we discussed earlier in class, there are different needs for each country and in order to create something that crosses language, borders, and ethnic groups is not impossible but proves challenging. However, normalizing civil society and working to improve the ways in which people are involved as seen in Brazil is an amazing start.

Houtzager, P.P. & Lavalle, A.D. Civil Society’s Claims to Political Representation in Brazil. Springer Science + Business Media. 9 January 2010. 1–26. Web.
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